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Fascism and Mussolini

The first fascist regime was established  by Benito Mussolini in Italy in 1925. The word fascism comes from "fasci ," an Italian term for "bundle of sticks" that was a symbol for strength in unity. Fascists believe in one-party, totalitarian control of a nation and its economy. Fascist regimes value nationalism and militarization and frequently build nationalist fervor around a concept of shared racial or ethnic superiority. Mussolini's Fascist regime of the 1920s inspired Adolf Hitler's regime in Germany. Created by Sal Khan.

Video transcript

When people use the terms "fascism" or "fascist" today, they're usually using it in a derogatory way to refer to a group, a regime, or even an individual that is overly aggressive, and controlling, and totalitarian. But its roots, actually, lie with Benito Mussolini, who was in power in Italy during the 1920s, and 1930s, and through World War II. And they proudly call themselves the Fascists and their ideology as fascism. And the root of fascist and fascism come from the Italian word "fascio," which literally refers to a bundle. It comes out of this idea that a bundle of things will be stronger together than individually. And this is actually the symbol for fascism. And this symbol of this bundle, this sheath of sticks, this actually predates Mussolini by thousands of years. It goes back to Roman times. And even, based on some of the things I've read, even predates Roman times as a symbol of unity, a symbol of official strength. And even before Mussolini came around, the term was used by many, many, many groups that viewed themselves as a league of revolutionaries. A group of people somehow fighting for change. And Mussolini was no different. When in the end of 1914 and then in early 1915, he establishes the Fasci d'Azione Rivoluzionaria. And I'm, once again, so sorry for my butchering of an Italian word. But this literally translates to group action revolutionary, or you could say the revolutionary action group, founded by Mussolini in 1915. And it was really a splinter of the Socialist Party. Well, there's an irony there because Mussolini and fascism, in particular, is associated with strongly anti-socialist ideology. But as Europe was entering into World War I in 1914, some of the mainstream of the Italian Socialist Party was against Italy entering the war. They wanted Italy to maintain their neutrality. But you had splinter groups, more nationalist groups, that said, hey, look, this is Italy's chance to claim its right. It should join the war on the side of the Entente. And Mussolini was one of these individuals. And because of his strong pro-war stance, he was actually kicked out of his-- he was head of a socialist paper in 1914. And then he eventually, by 1915, establishes the Fasci d'Azione Rivoluzionaria. And by the end of World War I, as we get into 1919, it regroups under the name Fasci Italiani di Combattimento. So this literally translates as, you could view Fasci as a group, or league, or revolutionary league of Italians of Combatants. Or the Combatant Italian Revolutionary Group-- I guess is one way to think about it-- or the Group of Italian Combatants, is another way to think about it. And their ideology-- and their ideology wasn't well established right when they set up. It was just really around this idea of being super pro-nationalist-- but it began to develop over the course of the '20s and the 1930s. The core idea, and I've already said it multiple times, is an extreme nationalism. And when we talk about extreme nationalism, or nationalism in general, it's talking about the interests of one nation, of one group, above all others. About putting the state above all other things. Oftentimes, fascism is viewed as a right-wing group. But in its purest form, it's neither left- or right-wing. At the left end of the spectrum, you could imagine communist or socialism. I'll write communism, which you could view as an extreme form of socialism. Communism. And at the extreme right, you could imagine just complete free-market. Complete, unfettered, free-market. Ultra small government. And fascists and extreme nationalists, they didn't view themselves as either end of the spectrum. They kind of viewed themselves as a separate way where everything was subordinate. The economy itself was subordinate to the state. Now with that said, they tended to align themselves more with folks on the right. So even though they weren't completely free-market capitalists, they were staunchly anti-communist and anti-socialist, which caused them to form alliances a little bit more with the right. But from their point of view, it wasn't one of these extreme right-wing ideologies that the government should be subordinate to the economy, that the government should be as small as possible. It was much more that the economy was there to serve national interests. Some of the other ideologies that the fascists began to hold is this idea that force was a legitimate part of politics. So force in politics. And you would see this when Benito Mussolini's fascists, through the use of the Black Shirts, which was their paramilitary group, which allowed them to eventually take political control and enforce political control. And we later see it with other groups like the Nazis. Who are also tended to be associated with fascism. And their storm troopers and their storm battalions, their paramilitary forces, that are used to, essentially, take political control. The other aspect of them-- and, as you could imagine, when we're talking about either Mussolini or the Nazis-- is that they weren't really fans of democracy. Not only did they think that everything should be subordinate to the state, but that the state should have absolute control. So it's not about democracy. It's about having a strong leader at the top. A strong one party at the top. And in the case of Mussolini it was the fascists. In the case of Hitler it ends up being the Nazis. So totalitarian. Completely totalitarian. And then, they also-- and these all gel together-- this idea of aggressive foreign policy. And this aggressive foreign policy is really rooted in this belief of cultural superiority. And, if you take the case of the Nazis, this belief in extreme racial superiority, cultural superiority. And I'm making a slight distinction there because in Mussolini's eyes, he was actually quite disparaging. Even though Hitler looked to Mussolini as something of a role model when Mussolini took power in 1922, it inspired Hitler's Beer Hall Putsch. Mussolini did not think much of Hitler through much of the 1920s and even early 1930s. He thought Hitler's ideas of racial purity were really an illusion. That there was no racially pure race. He didn't really appreciate Hitler calling the Italians a mongrel race. But Mussolini himself did think that the Italians were culturally superior. And that would be their justification for an aggressive foreign policy. For them taking over other territory in Europe and in Africa. And as we'll see, because they shared so much in common ideologically, the Nazis were, you could kind of view as a more extreme form. And the fascists themselves were quite extreme. But the Nazis were a more extreme form of the same ideology. They will, even though in the '20s and early '30s Mussolini is more eager to align himself with some of the other powers in Europe, in particular Great Britain and France. As we go into the second half of 1930s, Mussolini and Hitler find themselves to be kindred spirits. They both want to be aggressive in their foreign policy. They both want to secure other territory. They both have this idea that they need space for their superior populations, to their culturally superior, and in the case of the Nazis, racially superior populations to grow and thrive. And so as we enter into the second half of the 1930s and World War II, you have Mussolini and the fascists become close allies of Hitler and the Nazis.